Whimsical, heartbreaking and anime at its finest

Slice of Life anime is often defined as cute girls doing cute things. A group of sickeningly kind high school kids start an after-school club, open a bakery, or form a rock band, all with a single goal in mind. But the final narrative destination doesn’t really matter, instead acting as a base for the usual hijinks this genre has been obsessed with for decades.

It all got a bit tedious, with only a few shows in each new season managing to shake up the formula and deliver something new. These days, so many anime hope to break through the noise and grab our attention, entertaining us long enough to justify moving Blu-rays and action figures to keep turning a profit. fall victim to the worst possible archetypes and tropes.

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Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is different. It’s not a cliche or worked with fan service. It feels real in a wistful yet charming way, painting a picture of contemporary poverty in Japan as a mother and her adopted daughter try everything they can to maintain happiness in a world that often feels opposed to them. It has no epic plot or larger-than-life villain, but instead finds beauty in the mundane everyday.

Releasing in UK cinemas on August 10 courtesy of Anime Limited, this lovely little film from director Ayumu Watanabe (Children of The Sea) is one I’m desperate to find an audience. It lacks the coming-of-age romance of Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name or the digital exuberance of Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle, choosing instead to weave a much smaller thread with a pace that can feel icy at times. Yet each scene is deliberate, constructing its realistic images of its characters living normal lives despite the circumstances afforded them. It’s filled with passive moments of heartache, making you realize that its heroine deserves a much better existence than she has, but admire how she recognizes this fleeting potential before settling for what she has. lucky to have.


Nikuko and Kikuko are a mother and daughter living aboard a small fishing boat in a small Japanese town. Nikuko is loved and mocked within the local community, known for her overweight stature and love of all things food. Yet she is also endlessly cheerful no matter the situation, always learning to find the bright side after a past filled with trials. Its design is clearly a riff on Totoro, with so many scenes and visual motifs clearly referencing the Studio Ghibli classic. Despite her bossy personality, Nikuko is a woman who will do anything for those in care, even if it means making mistakes along the way, often failing to have a real conversation with her daughter or even understand the trials and tribulations that come with growing up in an ever-changing world. Many will see her as the film’s brightest spark, but she’s also the most tragic.


Kikuko is the film’s narrator, often unreliable in her retelling of events as she attends school and does her best to make friends and avoid confrontation. His clothes and appearance are simple, a clear sign of his humble upbringing and how his mother is apparently more obsessed with stuffing her face than providing for her family. The film has her befriending a girl way above her class, only for silly misunderstandings to see them fall apart and rarely reconnect as life goes on. We’re little more than observers, watching the daily routine of this adorable little town unfold from the perspective of a girl who learns many of these things alongside us. She has only one family member to speak of, few friends, and a whispered delivery line that borders on the precipice of apathy.


Her journey is slow and meditative, addressing issues of poverty, social acceptance and growing up as a young woman in a world that doesn’t always have the means to shape her in the best possible way. Nikuko is not the biological mother of her daughter, she was asked to raise her due to unfair circumstances which I won’t spoil. In her mind, she’s not fit to raise a child, her personality being one of individual excess and nonchalant unease that makes her carefree in a way that an anxious girl like Kikuko just isn’t cut out for. But she tries. She strives to provide for a girl who is her opposite in almost every way, but she no doubt loves her and hopes to play a part in the little moments that really matter. Kikuko is the same.


Although she can express her displeasure with their poor living conditions and the bullying she often experiences at school because of the family she was thrown into, it never becomes a burden to hold her back. She moves forward with neutral determination, sometimes even smiling as her caring personality shines through. Her disposition is so often one that tolerates existence, but throughout the film she overcomes this anxiety to become a more confident person, gaining agency that allows her to become much more than a heroine sitting on the periphery telling a story. story that rarely belongs to him. It does, and when she claims it in the film’s final act, I couldn’t help but shed a tear at how this little family comes together.

Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko won’t be for everyone. It deliberately moves forward in its narrative, and the characters don’t bother to keep our attention on the melodramatic plot developments. But I don’t believe it’s necessary. Ayumu Watanabe set out to tell a rural story that challenges society’s misconceptions and the value of incomplete families and how we should embrace family love and dependency, whatever form it takes. It’s a beautiful film, reminding me of similar big names like In This Corner Of The World and Only Yesterday which abandon fantasy in favor of reality and are so much more relevant to it.


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